Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 6, Number 3, September, 1996 Page: 117
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Consider the Lily: The Ungilded History of Colorado County, Texas
Unlike Ward County before it, when Wharton County was created, it did not
include the plantations of either James S. Montgomery or the now-deceased Benjamin
Franklin Stockton. Those plantations, together with the plantations of four of their near
neighbors, all of which were on the east side of the river stretching from the county line
halfway to Columbus, were the residences of more than one-third of the 527 slaves in the
county in 1846. Montgomery, with his family and numerous slaves, had lived on his
plantation of more than 2000 acres since February 1836. He had acquired it in a complicated
deal on the day after Christmas of 1835. The original owner, Clement Clinton Dyer, had
sold it to William Stafford on February 19, 1825. Stafford, through his son Adam, had sold
it to Stockton, who then lived in Mississippi, on March 30, 1835. Since Stockton did not
live in Texas, he was prohibited from owning the land, so Stafford and Stockton had to
employ a legal manuever, completing the deal by stipulating that the land was being
conveyed to the alcalde of San Felipe. After the revolution and the creation of a new
government, Montgomery went to court to get all the resulting clouds to his title removed.
The proceedings were little more than a formality, and on April 23, 1841, he took final title.
In 1846, Montgomery, with 58 slaves, held the dubious distinction of being the owner of
more of his fellow human beings than any other person in the county.4
His near neighbors in 1846, however, were not far behind. To his south,
Richard H. Foote owned a plantation of 2262 acres with 25 slaves. To Montgomery's north
were, in order, large plantations belonging to Stockton's estate, which owned 22 slaves,
John Matthews, who owned 21, Angus McNeill, who owned 33, and Claiborne Herbert,
the captain of the Mexican War company, who owned 30. Matthews had operated his
plantation nearly as long as Montgomery, acquiring it, the entire league that had been
granted to James Nelson, from Nelson on June 3, 1837. Like Montgomery, McNeill had
acquired and held onto his plantation only after a series of annoying legal squabbles. The
land had originally been granted to James J. Ross. He had conveyed it to his son, James
Talbot Ross, but left no assets to feed or pay expenses for three of his four surviving minor
children. Jesse Burnam, who had taken the children in, sued to invalidate the deed that
later date, they assigned offices on the ground floor to the county and district clerks (see Colorado County
Commissioners Court Minutes, Book 1, pp. 46, 65). Fisher's original plan, of course, contained only one office
on the ground floor. The second-floor room they rented to Neavitt was probably the courtroom, since the
courtroom would have been the only room in the building that was not used on a daily basis.
4 Colorado County Deed Records, Book A, p. 50, Book C, pp. 58-77; Tax Rolls of Colorado County,
1846, or the convenient summation in Bill Stein, ed., "The Slave Narratives of Colorado County," Nesbitt
Memorial Library Journal, volume 3, number 1, January 1993, p. 30. Montgomery's plantation was the lower
half of the Clement C. Dyer Survey. In 1845, there had been 874 slaves in the county. The decline of more than
300 is attributable to the massive loss of territory caused by the creation of Lavaca and Wharton Counties. For
example, Washington Green Lee Foley, who with 68 slaves had had more than anyone else in Colorado County
in 1845, was thereafter in Lavaca County, and John C. Clark, William Jones Elliott Heard, John D. Newell,
and Gideon G. Williams, who had had 29, 28, 25, and 24 slaves respectively, were in Wharton County (see
Tax Rolls of Colorado County, 1845).
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 6, Number 3, September, 1996, periodical, September 1996; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151398/m1/5/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed June 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.